|Regions with significant populations|
|United States (California)|
|English and Spanish
|Traditional tribal religion,
|Related ethnic groups|
Ynezeño, Purismeño, Obiseño
The Chumash are a Native American people who historically inhabited the central and southern coastal regions of California, in portions of what is now San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, extending from Morro Bay in the north to Malibu in the south. They also occupied three of the Channel Islands: Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel; the smaller island of Anacapa was uninhabited. Modern place names with Chumash origins include Malibu, Lompoc, Ojai, Pismo Beach, Point Mugu, Port Hueneme, Piru, Lake Castaic, Saticoy, and Simi Valley.
Archaeological research demonstrates that the Chumash have deep roots in the Santa Barbara Channel area and lived along the southern California Coast for millennia.
Chumash Environment Pre-Contact (Before 1400 A.D.) The Chumash resided between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the California coast where numerous rivers and tributaries abound. Situated inside and around the modern-day Santa Barbara region the Chumash found themselves in a veritable bounty of resources. The tribe lived in an area composed of three different environments: the interior, the coast, and the Northern Channel Islands (Gamble 21). These three provided a diverse array of materials to support the Chumash lifestyle. The Interior is composed of the land outside the coast and spanning the wide plains, rivers, and mountains. The Coast covers the cliffs and land close to the ocean and, in reference to resources gathered, the areas of the ocean that the Chumash harvest from. And the Northern Channel Islands lie off the coast of the Chumash territory. All of the California coastal-interior has a Mediterranean climate due to the incoming winds from the ocean (Timbrook 164). The mild temperatures year-round save for winter made gathering easy; during the cold months the tribes people harvested what they could and supplemented their diets with stored foods. What villages gathered and traded during the seasons changed depending on which of the three environments they resided (Gamble 228). With coasts populated by masses of various species of fish and land densely covered by trees and animals, the Chumash had a diverse array of food. Abundant resources and a winter rarely harsh enough to cause concern meant the tribe lived a sedentary (meaning living in one place) lifestyle in addition to a subsistence existence. Villages in the three aforementioned areas contained remains of sea mammals, indicating that trade networks existed for moving materials throughout the Chumash territory (Coombs and Plog 313). Such connections spread out the land’s wealth allowing the Chumash to live comfortably without agriculture.
Pre-Contact Chumash Diet (Before 1400 A.D.) Obviously, the closer a village is to the ocean the greater its reliance on maritime resources (Gamble 6). Thanks to advanced canoe designs coastal and island people could procure fish and aquatic mammals from farther out. Shellfish were a fantastic source of nutrition both relatively easy to find and abundant. Much of the favored varieties grew within tidal zones, areas close to the shore (Gamble 26-28). Shellfish grew in abundance during winter to early spring; their proximity to shore would make collection easier since gatherers would not need to venture out too far. Some of the consumed species included mussels, abalone, and a wide array of clams. Ocean animals like otters and seals were thought to be the primary meal of coastal tribes people, but recent evidence shows that the aforementioned trade networks exchanged oceanic animals for terrestrial foods from the interior. Any village could acquire fish but the coastal and island communities specialized in catching not just smaller fish but the massive catches like swordfish (Gamble 156). This incredible feat, difficult even for today’s technology, was made possible by the tomol plank canoe. Not only did its design allow for the capture of deep water fish but it also facilitated the trade routes between villages (Gamble 156). Pre-Contact coastal Chumash relied less on terrestrial resources than they did on maritime; vice-versa for interior Chumash (Gamble 164). Regardless they both consumed similar land resources. Like many other tribes deer were the most important land mammal the Chumash pursued. That is to say, deer were consumed in varying amounts across all regions, which cannot be said for other terrestrial animals. Interior Chumash placed greater value on the deer, to the extent that there were unique hunting practices for them. They dressed as deer and grazed alongside the animals until the hunters were in range to use their arrows (Gamble 164). Even Chumash close to the ocean pursued deer though in understandably less numbers. And what more meat the villages needed they acquired from smaller animals such as rabbits and birds. Flora composed the rest of Chumash diet. And no discussion of flora can go without stating the importance of acorns. These nuts were the staple food for numerous reasons despite the work needed to remove their inherent toxins. They could be ground into a paste both easy to eat and stored for years (Gamble 23). Coast Live Oak provided the best acorns, whose mush would be served usually unseasoned with meat and/or fish (Brittain 5).
The beginning of the Chumash tribe The Chumash lived along the California coast for over eleven thousand years. The first settlement started over 13,000 years ago near the Santa Barbra coast. Their tribe had reached a population into the tens of thousands over an area spanning seven thousand miles. The name Chumash means “bread maker” or “seashell people” being that they originated near the Santa Barbra coast. The Chumash tribes located near the coast benefited most with the “close juxtaposition of a variety or marine and terrestrial habits, intensive upwelling in coastal waters, and intentional burning of the landscape made the Santa Barbra Channel region one of the most resource abundant places on the planet” (Newton 416). Before the mission period the Chumash lived in over 150 independent villages speaking variations of the same language. Much of their culture consisted of basketry, bead manufacturing and trading, cuisine of local abalone and clam, herbalism which consisted of using local herbs to produce teas and medical reliefs, rock art, and the scorpion tree (Barry). The scorpion tree was significant to the Chumash Indians due to its arborglyph: a carving of depicting a six-legged creature with a headdress including a crown and two spheres. The shamans also participated in the carving which was used in observations of the stars and in part of the Chumash calendar.
Modernizing Chumash (Contact to Modernity) Europeans first visited the Chumash Indians in 1542. They were met by sailing vessels under the command of Juan Cabrillo. With the arrival of the Europeans “came a series of unprecedented blows to the Chumash and their traditional lifeway’s. Anthropologists, historians, and other scholars have long been interested in documenting the collision of cultures that accompanied the European exploration and settlement of the Americas” (Newton 416). Spain settled on the territory of the Chumash Indians in 1770. They founded colonies, bringing in missionaries to begin Christianizing Native Americans in the region. Due to the large mission and Christian influence Chumash villages began moving to many different missions springing up along the coast of California. Much of the Chumash’s population was diminished due to old world diseases brought over when the Europeans had first settled. The settlement of the Spanish also devastated the Chumash culture. The Chumash reservation was established in 1901 and encompasses 127 acres. No native Chumash speak their own language since Inesño who died in 1965. Much of their present day income is through the operation of the Chumash Casino and resort as well as small cafes and restaurants located in Santa Ynez, California. Today the Chumash are estimated to have a population size of 5,000 members. Many current members can still trace their ancestors to the five islands of Channel Island National Park.
- 1 Population
- 2 Languages
- 3 Culture
- 4 History
- 5 Contemporary times
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. The anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber thought that the 1770 population of the Chumash might have been about 10,000. Alan K. Brown concluded that the population was about 15,000. Sherburne F. Cook at various times estimated the aboriginal Chumash as 8,000, 13,650, 20,400, and 18,500.
Some scholars have suggested that Chumash population may have declined substantially during a "protohistoric" period (1542–1769) when intermittent contacts with the crews of Spanish ships—including those of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's expedition who wintered in the Santa Barbara Channel in AD 1542-43—brought disease and death. But the Chumash appear to have been thriving in the late 18th century when Spaniards first began actively colonizing the California coast. Whether the deaths began earlier with the contacts with ships' crew, or only later with the construction of several Spanish missions at Ventura, Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Santa Inez, and San Luis Obispo, the Chumash were eventually devastated by Old World diseases such as influenza and smallpox, to which they had no immunological resistance. By 1900, their numbers had declined to just 200, while current estimates of Chumash people today range from 2,000 to 5,000.
Several related languages under the name "Chumash" (from čʰumaš /t͡ʃʰumaʃ/, meaning "Santa Cruz Islander") were spoken. There are few, if any, living native speakers, although they are well documented in the unpublished fieldnotes of linguist John Peabody Harrington. Especially well documented are the Barbareño, Ineseño, and Ventureño dialects. Several Chumash families are working to revitalize the language. The native name for Chumash in Ineseño/Barbareño is sʰamala /sʰamala/.
The Chumash were hunter-gatherers and were adept at fishing at the time of Spanish colonization. They are one of the relatively few New World peoples who regularly navigated the ocean (another was the Tongva, a neighboring tribe located to the south). Some settlements built plank boats called tomols, which facilitated the distribution of goods and could even be used for whaling.
Anthropologists have long collected Chumash baskets, and two of the finest collections are at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and the Musée de l'Homme (Museum of Mankind) in Paris, France. The Museum of Natural History at Santa Barbara is believed to have the largest collection of Chumash baskets.
Bead manufacture and trading
The Chumash of the Northern Channel Islands were at the center of an intense regional trade network. Beads made from olivella shells were manufactured on the Channel Islands and used as a form of currency by the Chumash. These shell beads were traded to neighboring groups and have been found throughout Alta California. Over the course of late prehistory, millions of shell beads were manufactured and traded from Santa Cruz Island. It has been suggested that exclusive control over stone quarries used to manufacture the drills needed in bead production could have played a role in the development of social complexity in Chumash society.
Foods historically consumed by the Chumash include several marine species, such as black abalone, the Pacific littleneck clam, red abalone, the bent-nosed clam, ostrea lurida oysters, Pacific littleneck clams, angular unicorn snails, and the butternut clam. They also made flour from the dried fruits of the laurel sumac.
Herbs used in traditional Chumash medicine include thick-leaved Yerba Santa, used to keep airways open for proper breathing; laurel sumac, the root bark of which was used to make an herbal tea for treating dysentery and black sage, the leaves and stems of the plant were made into a strong sun tea. This was rubbed on the painful area or used to soak one's feet. The plant contains diterpenoids, such as aethiopinone and ursolic acid, that are pain relievers.
The Chumash formerly practiced an initiation rite involving the use of Datura wrightii, or "moymoy" in their language. When a boy was 8 years old, his mother would give him a preparation of it to drink. This was supposed to be a spiritual challenge to the boy to help him develop the spiritual wellbeing that is required to become a man. Not all of the boys survived.
A centuries old oak tree in California is considered to have a Chumash arborglyph, a carving of a 6-legged creature with a headdress including a crown and two spheres. Previously thought to have been carved by cowboys, it was visited in 2007 by paleontologist Rex Saint Onge who identified the three foot carving as being of Chumash origin and related to other Chumash cave paintings in California. Further studies have led Saint Onge to believe that these are not simply the work of Chumash but also by the San (a neighboring native group to the Chumash for centuries) shamans but were conscious observations of the stars and part of a Chumash calendar.
Before Spanish contact
The Chumash people throve at a very early period in California prehistory, with some settlements dating to at least 10,000 years before present. Sites of the Millingstone Horizon date from 7000 cal BC to 4500 cal BC; they evidence a subsistence system focused on the processing of seeds with metates and manos. During that time people used bipointed bone objects and line to catch fish and began making beads from shells of the marine olive snail (Olivella biplicata).
Some researchers believe the Chumash may have been visited by Polynesians between AD 400 and 800, nearly 1,000 years before Christopher Columbus reached The Americas. Although the concept is rejected by most archaeologists who work with the Chumash culture, studies published in peer-reviewed journals have given the idea greater plausibility. The Chumash advanced sewn-plank canoe design, which is used throughout the Polynesian Islands but is unknown in North America except by those two tribes, is cited as the chief evidence for contact. Comparative linguistics also may provide evidence as the Chumash word for "sewn-plank canoe," tomolo'o, may have been derived from kumulā'au, the Polynesian word for the redwood logs used in that construction. However, the language comparison is generally considered tentative. Furthermore, the development of the Chumash plank canoe is fairly well represented in the archaeological record and spans a time period of several centuries.
Spanish arrival and the Mission Era
Chumash people first encountered Europeans in the autumn of 1542, when two sailing vessels under Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo arrived on the coast from Mexico. Cabrillo died and was buried on San Miguel Island, but his men brought back a diary that contained the names and population counts for many Chumash villages, such as Mikiw. Spain claimed what is now California from that time forward, but did not return to settle until 1769, when the first Spanish soldiers and missionaries arrived with the double purpose of Christianizing the Native Americans and facilitating Spanish colonization. By the end of 1770 missions and military presidios had been founded at San Diego to the south of Chumash lands and Monterey, to their north.
The Chumash people moved from their villages to the Franciscan missions between 1772 and 1817. Mission San Luis Obispo, established in 1772, was the first mission in Chumash-speaking lands, as well as the northernmost of the five missions ever constructed in those lands. Next established, in 1782, was Mission San Buenaventura on the Pacific Coast near the mouth of the Santa Clara River. Mission Santa Barbara, also on the coast, and facing out to the Channel Islands, was established in 1786. Mission La Purisima Concepcion was founded along the inland route from Santa Barbara north to San Luis Obispo in 1789. The final Franciscan mission to be constructed in native Chumash territory was Santa Ynez, founded in 1804 on the Santa Ynez River with a seed population of Chumash people from Missions La Purisima and Santa Barbara. To the southeast, Mission San Fernando, founded in 1798 in the land of Takic Shoshonean speakers, also took in large numbers of Chumash speakers from the middle Santa Clara River valley. While most of the Chumash people joined one mission or another between 1772 and 1806, a significant portion of the native inhabitants of the Channel Islands did not move to the mainland missions until 1816.
The first modern Tomol was built and launched in 1976 as a result of a joint venture between Quabajai Chumash of The Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The Tomol's name is Helek/Xelex, the Chumash word for falcon. The Brotherhood of the Tomol was revived and her crew paddled and circumnavigated around the Santa Barbara Channel Islands on a ten day journey, stopping on three of the islands. The second Tomol, the Elye'wun ("swordfish"), was launched in 1997.
On September 9, 2001, the first "crossing," in the Chumash tomol, from the mainland to Channel islands was sponsored by the Chumash Maritime Association and the Barbareno Chumash Council. Several Chumash bands and descendants gathered on the island of Limuw (the Chumash name for Santa Cruz island) to witness the tomol Elye'wun being paddled from the mainland to Santa Cruz island. Their journey was documented in the short film "Return to Limuw" produced by the Ocean Channel for the Chumash Maritime Association, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. The channel crossings have become a yearly event hosted by the Barbareno Chumash Council.
The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash is a federally recognized Chumash tribe. They have the Santa Ynez Reservation located in Santa Barbara County, near Santa Ynez, California. Chumash people are also enrolled in the Tejon Indian Tribe of California.
In addition to the Santa Ynez Band, the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, and the Barbareño/Ventureño Band of Mission Indians are attempting to gain federal recognition. Other Chumash tribal groups include the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, descendants from the San Luis Obispo area, and the Barbareno Chumash Council, descendants from the greater Santa Barbara area.
The publication of the first Chumash dictionary took place in April 2008. Six hundred pages long and containing 4,000 entries, the "Samala-English Dictionary" includes more than 2,000 illustrations.
There is a Chumash Indian Museum located in Thousand Oaks, California. The museum has Chumash artifacts, displays illustrating Chumash daily life and even a recreated Chumash village nestled underneath beautiful oak trees by a stream. The museum is surrounded by hiking trails.
Santa Ynez History Mexico seized control of the missions in 1834. Tribes people either fled into the interior, attempted farming for themselves and were driven off the land, or were enslaved by the new administrators. Many found highly exploitative work on large Mexican ranches. After 1849 most Chumash land was lost due to theft by Americans and a declining population, due to the effects of violence and disease. The remaining Chumash began to lose their cohesive identity. In 1855, a small piece of land (120 acres) was set aside for just over 100 remaining Chumash Indians near Santa Ynez mission. This land ultimately became the only Chumash reservation, although Chumash individuals and families also continued to live throughout their former territory in southern California. Today, the Santa Ynez band lives at and near Santa Ynez, California. The Chumash population was between roughly 10,000 and 18,000 in the late 18th century. In 1990, 213 Indians lived on the Santa Ynez Reservation (Pritzker). Food Sourcing Improvements by Santa Ynez In December of 2010 the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County was the proud recipient of a $10,000 grant from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation to support expansion of the Produce Initiative. The Produce Initiative puts an emphasis on supplying fruits and vegetables to 264 local non-profits and food programs. The Foodbank always distributes produce free of charge to member agencies to encourage healthy eating. Expanding produce accessibility to children is important to the Foodbank and the newly operating Kids’ Farmer’s Market program, an extension of the Produce Initiative, successfully achieves that goal. The Kids’ Farmer’s Market program trains volunteers to teach kids in after school programs both nutrition education and hands-on cooking instruction. This program currently operates at 12 sites countywide, including in the Santa Ynez Valley. After the children cook and eat a healthy meal, they get to take home a bag full of fresh produce, where they can help feed and cook for the whole family (Santa Barbara Independent). Obesity in children is a major health problem prevalent among African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos. Obese children are at high risk for developing illnesses associated with obesity, like Type 2 diabetes, once known as "adult-onset diabetes" because it typically appeared in adults, is now appearing in children (Blackwell). Due to poor diet and lack of adequate exercise, childhood obesity is also a major problem in many African American and Native American communities. Risk factors for childhood obesity include a family history of obesity, a family history of smoking, taller height (a large proportion of obese children are taller than average), and a sedentary lifestyle. Moreover, socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, lack of access to information, and substandard education, also contribute to the proliferation of childhood obesity in communities of color (Blackwell). The Santa Ynez band of Chumash is doing their best to eat more sustainable foods. The Santa Ynez is no different than the rest of Americans who are struggling with obesity because of the factors listed above. In addition, children are not being educated on what foods are healthy and most sustainable. Instead children of all cultures are less active nowadays and more prone to eat junk food then fresh food. The Santa Ynez band of Chuamash is doing their part to make children more aware about healthy living. In August of 2013 a community garden was set up by the Santa Ynez Chumash Environmental Office and Education departments after school program and by September there was plenty of food to harvest. In September, a basket of zucchini, rainbow chard, arugula and cilantro was offered to the Elder’s Council. In October, students harvested yellow and green zucchini, carrots and beats (Santa Ynez Chumash Environmental Office). The Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue also known as Veggie Rescue is another effort to improve food sourcing for the Santa Ynez. According to the programs website, “We redirect or "glean" local produce from farms, farmers markets, home gardens, and orchards and deliver it to charitable organizations and school lunch programs in Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez and Santa Maria. All at no charge” (Veggie Rescue). School chefs have introduced new fruits and vegetables to children who also learn where and how this delicious food is grown. People of all ages have benefitted from the labor and skill of the programs local farmers. Through this program the Santa Ynez community has found a way to take better care of one another (Veggie Rescue).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chumash.|
- Burro Flats Painted Cave
- Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park, California
- Chumash traditional narratives
- Painted Rock
- Polynesian navigation
- Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact
- Shalawa Meadow, California
- Mary Yee, last speaker of Barbareño
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- Hudson, D. Travis, Thomas Blackburn, Rosario Curletti and Janice Timbrook. 1977. The Eye of the Flute: Chumash Traditional History and Ritual as told by Fernando Librado Kitsepawit to John P. Harrington. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
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- Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians
- Inezeño Chumash Language Tutorial
- Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation
- Antelope Valley Indian Museum at California Department of Parks and Recreation
- Native Cultures and the Maritime Heritage Program, NOAA
- Barbareno Chumash Council
- Northern Chumash Tribal Council
- Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park
- Chumash Singer and Storyteller Julie Tumamait-Stenslie
- Chumash Indian Museum, Thousand Oaks, CA
- Map of Chumash towns at the time of European Settlement
- "Wishtoyo Foundation's Chumash Discovery Village, Malibu, CA".